One of John Lloyd’s favourite facts is that the largest millipede in Tanzania is called the Wandering Leg Sausage.
He also read a whole book on frogs just to discover that there is only one species that goes “ribbit”.
And did you know that the Statue of Liberty wears size 879 shoes? Or that women look their oldest at 3.30pm on Wednesdays?
John is a font of fascinating information, thanks to his job as creator of the hit BBC panel show QI.
He oversees a team of five researchers or QI Elves and has been given the title “chief gnome”.
They come up with so many facts that don’t get aired by presenter Stephen Fry that they’ve now produced a book called 1,339 QI Facts To Make Your Jaw Drop.
The show has given John great pleasure and enthusiasm at 62, after a career producing comedy shows such as Blackadder, Not The Nine O’Clock News, Spitting Image and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
“I used to be a director of commercials and made a lot of money but felt I was doing the same thing over and over again,” says John, who also presents the Radio 4 show The Museum of Curiosity, a spin-off of QI.
“Now I learn new things every day and I feel like a five-year-old again. Everybody should have a life that’s this interesting.
“I don’t think I really learned anything useful until I was in my mid 40s, when I started reading for myself.
“We have about 100 books of trivia in the office, but it’s quite upsetting when the third fact you come across you know is not true. So now we rely on encyclopaedias and experts.
“These facts are extraordinarily difficult to find and take a lot of work. The amount of stuff that goes into QI is a tiny percentage of what we find out.
“We have five people on the staff working all year round. I tell them to read everything, including footnotes and the index, but only write down things that you find interesting.
“I read a whole book on frogs just to discover that, when it was written in 2000, there were 4,360 species but only one that goes ‘ribbit’.
“That’s the Pacific Tree Frog, which lives in Hollywood. That’s why you hear frogs going ‘ribbit’ in films like Tarzan and Vietnam War movies, where the frogs don’t live.
“I’ve just been to Hay on Wye which was a feast for me, with every second house being a bookshop. I’ve come away with a sack full of books on obscure things beginning with L for the next series of QI, which starts recording in May.
“I’m reading up on all the Louis kings of France and legumes – peas and beans and other things like licorice are classed as legumes.”
He adds: “Stephen Fry tried to get me on Twitter in 2009. I can’t see the point personally, but 140 characters is just right for a QI fact.
“We put the young researchers on the QI Elves Twitter account, as it’s good training. It teaches them to write clearly and simply and as short as possible.
“It’s like instant market research as we can see how many people make it a favourite or retweet it. The one that got the most retweets is the fact that Scotland has twice as many pandas as Conservative MPs.”
John was originally to be the host of the BBC quiz Have I Got News For You, which was initially called John Lloyd’s Newsround.
He recorded a pilot episode in 1990, hosting alongside Ian Hislop and Paul Merton, which was never broadcast and Angus Deayton took over.
He says: “I was going to ring up and ask if I could have another go at presenting, as I think I’d be better at it now!
“It’s a brilliant show but I think it needs a regular presenter. Some of the guest hosts are not so good. At least Angus was consistent.
“I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue on Radio 4 has settled on Jack Dee, and a regular presenter gives them a chance to grow into the job.
“With QI we went through a soggy patch a couple of years ago. We were on BBC1 before the watershed so lots of things couldn’t be said. QI is never nasty but when talking about the mating habits of animals, there is bound to be a bit of naughtiness.”
John spent three years living at the Holiday Inn in Birmingham in the 1980s while he made the iconic satirical ITV puppet show Spitting Image.
“I had a stressful but very happy time up there,” he remembers.
“Every few years, somebody comes up with the idea of doing Spitting Image again and we tell them you need £5 million before you even start, and they drop the idea.
“Each episode cost £300,000, it was the most expensive light entertainment show on telly. But it made Central TV a lot of money – it got 15 million viewers every Sunday night and Central sold £1 million worth of advertising each time.”
Another project close to John’s heart is The Meaning of Liff, a book he wrote 30 years ago with the late Douglas Adams.
It’s a dictionary of definitions of “things there should be words for but aren’t”. The meanings are given place names.
The new After Liff book has a whole raft of new words, including several to do with technology, such as Badlesmeare – one who dishonestly ticks the “I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions” box.
Or Eworthy, an adjective meaning a person worth emailing but not worth phoning or meeting.
Clavering is pretending to text when alone and feeling vulnerable in public while a Tootgarook is one who retweets praise about themselves.
“Douglas would have loved these technological terms as he was a freak about gadgets. I believe he all but invented the iPad in the mid 1970s. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a touchscreen computer you can hold in your hand, just like a tablet.
“Sometimes we find a place name and the definition is obvious. What’s a Tinkerbush? One who is addicted to bikini waxes, of course.
“At other times you think of a definition and then need a name for it. For example, today I am driving and trying to beat the time my satnav tells me my journey should take. That will go in my notebook, there’s got to be a word for that.”
* 1,339 QI Facts to Make Your Jaw Drop by John Lloyd, John Mitchinson and James Harkin and Afterliff by John Lloyd and Jon Canter are out now, published by Faber and Faber.
Eight Quite Interesting Facts about Birmingham and the Black Country
* In 2005, people from Birmingham were the most likely in the UK to search the internet for the word porn. They were also the second most likely to search for kittens.
* According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word Birminghamize means to make something up.
* Birmingham has more miles of canal than Venice, but only because it’s much bigger. Brum is 35 times larger than Venice, yet only has 1.3 times its canal length.
* Indoor rifle-shooting was banned in Birmingham pubs in 1905. The reason was not health and safety gone mad, but because it encouraged gambling.
* The oldest condoms to be found were discovered in a toilet in Dudley Castle. They were made from fish and animal intestine and were dated to around 1640AD.
* In the 17th century, Conservative politicians were known as Anti-Birminghams.
* The world-famous shot of the Tennis Girl – a girl scratching her bottom on the tennis court – was taken at the University of Birmingham courts in Edgbaston in 1976.
* There is a crater on the moon called Birmingham.
Five Midland Liffs
Tipton (noun): An imaginary doffing of the hat in silent acknowledgement of high-class work.
Hallon (Shropshire) (noun): One who sometimes says hi and other times ignores you.
Gailey Wharf (Staffordshire) (verb): To begin running lightly up a flight of steps to mask the fact that you’ve just tripped over one.
Alvechurch (noun): A place of worship in which the clergy outnumber the congregation.
Wychbold (Worcestershire) (noun): The outline of your watch etched into your wrist.